My dad did what? Said what?

labor relations and safety coordination

Les Green.age 5I’ve mentioned that I’ve been pouring over my 1972 diaries. Mostly, I’ve noted my foibles. But now and then, I say, “My dad did what?”

Tuesday, August 1: Premiere of Compendium on CV7 (I assume public access cable) at 10 pm. “Barbara and Dad were hosts.” Surely, Barbara was the very active Barbara Oldwine, who died in 2014. the topic was The Black Family. I have ZERO recollection of this.

Friday, August 4: In the presence of his friends John and April, who had come over for dinner, he announced he would run for mayor of Binghamton in 1973. Three young black men from Highland Falls, Orange County, came over. Nope, don’t remember that either. And since he had JUST moved to Johnson City, I don’t know HOW he could run. Ultimately, he did not.


One of my sisters suggested I look up to see if he ever made any overtures toward the political office. I searched for him on for 1972 and 1973. He was elected to a couple of boards involving the Broome County’s Red Cross and a group involved with housing for children.

He became the labor relations and compliance officer and safety coordinator for Edward L. Nezelek, Inc. around 9 Jan 1973.

Several articles about difficulties between the State Division of Human Rights and its Binghamton-Broome advisory committee, chaired by Les Green, were reported. By 17 March 1973, things were getting better. Dad was one of those “trusted voices” asked to comment on whatever racial tension occurring in Binghamton.

The house fire in August 1973 at 29 Ackley Avenue in Johnson City was reported. My sister Marcia’s name is misspelled as Marsha. The fire marshall said a “cigarette from an ashtray emptied into a trash basket next to the stove may have caused the fire.” There was damage to the kitchen, bathroom, attic, and roof.

No mention of political ambition. But what’s this? Here’s a classified ad for 28 July through 1 August 1973: “GOOD SLIGHTLY USED folk guitar, price negotiable.” He was going to sell his beloved 1958 Gibson guitar? THIS shocked me. As it turned out, he didn’t sell it but took it to Charlotte, NC, when he, mom, and Marcia moved, and it stayed with him until his death. My sister Leslie now owns it.

The picture

This is a picture of my father, approximately at age five, in Binghamton, NY, circa 1932. I had never seen the photo until February 2022. It is the earliest pic I have seen of him by about a decade. But I don’t know where it is except for the word Calvary. A church? A daycare?

There is a Calvary Baptist on Chenango St, which had a kids program. But what’s with the outfits? Christian service brigade and/or pioneer club? Binghamton history folks: do you have any thoughts? He was probably living at 339 Court St at the time; he was there two years earlier. Or he could have been at 10 Tudor St, off of Susquehanna St.

BTW, tomorrow, my father would have been 96.

My rendezvous with destiny

10 Riverside Drive

Ely Park entrance
By Paul Konecny, used by permission

Recently, I commented on my friend David’s Facebook response to his Wordle 3 score that I’d gotten two 3s in a row, “my rendezvous with destiny.” This was an obtuse clue that day’s word, which was TRYST. He said, “That sounds like the title of your next blog post.” Okay, I always do what David says. (HA!)

ITEM: Someone posted a picture of the gateway to the hundred steps to Ely Park on Facebook’s Historic Binghamton site. This was at the corner of Oak and Prospect Streets, less than four blocks from both my Grandma Williams’ house on Maple Street, south of Prospect, and our house on Gaines Street, east of Oak Street.

The gateway was razed, along with dozens of houses in Binghamton, Johnson City (plus the baseball stadium Johnson Field), and westward in the late 1960s to build the new Route 17, which is becoming I-86. My grandma had relatives that were displaced. But somehow, I had it in my head that the construction was even more disruptive than it was.

If you take the westbound Exit 72 and turn right then left, I know you’ll find a cemetery where my friend Karen’s mom was buried in 2012. But if you turn right and then right again, you’ll find the Ely Park golf course. I haven’t been in that section of the city since the highway was built. Next time I’m in town, I’ll need to go there.

Les as a child

ITEM: My sister Marcia found a picture of my father from c. 1932, which I posted on the Historic Binghamton site, trying to find more information about it. I’ll post it here later this month.

One guy commented that my father “would sometimes sing with my Dad, Pete Reynolds. You and your family visited my family when we lived on Brady Hill Rd in Conklin Forks.” Always fascinating when my past comes back.

A woman named Arlene noted: “Knew your parents and the family through the dental office where I was a dental hygienist. Loved all of them!!” That was 10 Riverside Dr. with Dr. Levey. That was in a separate building right behind my pedestrian’s office, Israel J. Rosefsky, who retired at 88 and died in 2005 at 95. I have a favorable recollection of Arlene.

Old friend

ITEM: In the 1980s, I had a friend named Jean. We used to hang out together, going to plays or concerts; I’ll have to check my diaries eventually. She had a daughter who I was fond of. But I lost track of them.

As I noted, Sue from my choir died recently. I just discovered that Jean’s daughter is Susan’s granddaughter! Moreover, my wife knows the husband of Jean’s daughter. At the funeral, I discovered I had given Jean’s daughter some Elfquest comics back in the day. She knew who Raoul Vezina, my FantaCo friend, was and even remembered that he died from an asthma attack in 1983.

I think a better title for this would have been, My Ever-Present Past, a Paul McCartney song title.

Grandma Gertrude Williams

August 10, 1897-January 24, 1982

Gertrude WilliamsIt occurred to me that I’ve written a few times about my paternal grandma Agatha Green. For instance, here and here and especially here. I am reminded that she was born 120 years ago on July 26.

I’ve written far less about my maternal grandma Gertrude Williams, born August 10, 125 years ago. I think it’s because my relationship with her was more… complicated. She was born Gertrude Elizabeth Yates, daughter of Edward Yates and Lilian Bell Archer. For the longest time, even my mother believed she was born in 1898. I always remembered it because it was the year of the Spanish-American War.

Then one day in the mid-1960s, she went to register to vote. Unwilling to lie to a government official, she confessed her true age.

I thought Gert grew up in the house my mother always lived in until mom got married. But in the 1905 New York State Census in Binghamton, NY, she lived at 53 Sherman Place, a street razed c. 1960 to build a park near 45 Carroll Street. By 1910, she lived at 13 Maple Street with her parents and her younger siblings, Edward, Ernest, and Adina, or Deana as everyone called her. Gert had an older sister who had died before she was born.

In March 1912, her father died. Yet, in July of that same year, her mother Lillian married a guy named Maurice Holland, a guy from either Texas or Mexico, depending on which subsequent Census you believe.

In the 1920 Census, the household was Harriet Archer (Lillian’s widowed mother), Lillian, Maurice, and Lillian’s four children. Gert, now 22, was working as a maid.

My mom enters the picture

Gertrude married a guy named Clarence Williams around 1927, and they had a child named Gertrude. (She will hereafter be referred to as Trudy to avoid confusion.) And they had a second child, who did not live long and died in early 1929.

In the 1930 Census, the household consisted of Lillian and Maurice; Gertrude, Edward, and Deana, Ernie having moved out; a nephew of Lillian named Edward Archer, 17; and my mother Trudy, 2. Here is a picture of Gert with her mother, sister, and daughter.

But where’s Clarence? Fuzzy gossip suggested that Lillian and maybe even Harriet (d. 1928) drove him away. I never got the real story. Gert is 32 and working as a servant.

By the 1940 Census, the residents were Maurice (Lillian d. 1938), Gert, Edward, Deana, and Trudy. Gert only had a 6th-grade education, and she was working as a housekeeper.

My sister has many undated pictures of people visiting 13 Maple Street, eating in the not-very-large backyard. So it was some sort of cultural mecca. What was THAT all about?

I’ve just seen the 1950 Census

It shows Edward, 47, as head of household, naturally(!), because he was the eldest male; he was a truck driver. Adenia, 42, was a stitcher. Gert, 52, was now listed as separated from Clarence (d. 1958) and not working outside the home. Trudy, 22, is a shipping clerk. She married Les Green, 23, on March 12, 1950; he was a cleaner doing remodeling work.

Eventually, in 1950, my parents-to-be moved into 5 Gaines Street, about six blocks away. It was owned by Gert and presumably her siblings.

I enter the picture

I was born in 1953. In 1958, when I was going to kindergarten, I was supposed to attend Oak Street School. Since my mother worked outside the home, at McLean’s department store, it was determined that 13 Maple Street would be my school address so that I could go there at lunch and after school, tended to by Gert and Deana. Ed had moved out by then.

Deana was cool. We’d play 500 rummy and Scrabble. I taught her canasta, which Grandma Green had shown me.

Gert was a pain. She would tell stories, but it was difficult following them or believing how much, if any, was true. She would indicate that we should not go near this person, who turned out to be a relative. Worse, she forbid her adult daughter and us to see her brother Ed because he was living with a woman, Edna, who was not his wife. After Ed died in 1970, my strongest memory was of Gert and Edna crying on each other’s shoulders at the funeral.


There were “bad men” lurking in the Oak Street underpass, we were told. The boogie man existed.  When I washed the dishes, which I did at home regularly, she told me I shouldn’t because it wasn’t manly. This was one of the several times that Deana said to Gert, “Leave the boy alone!” When Deana died in 1966, I was devastated.

My mother was in a tug-of-war between her mother and her husband, which I alluded to here. Dad clearly did not like Gert. One time, we were having dinner, and someone asked Gert if she wanted some peas. She said, “I’ll have a couple.” My father put two peas on her plate. It was shocking and bite-your-lip funny and may explain why I can be such a literalist.

Mom’s first cousin Frances Beal, Ernie’s daughter, tells a Gert story here, in the fifth paragraph from the end.


When my parents and baby sister Marcia moved to Charlotte, NC, it became clear to everyone except Gert that Gert needed to move down with her daughter and son-in-law. She had a coal stove, which required going to the basement to shovel the coal into pails and carry it up rickety steps. I did this a lot as a kid, which I oddly enjoyed.

It was the task of sister Leslie and me to take Gert to Charlotte. She railed against it. Where would she get stockings? “They sell stockings in North Carolina.”

She lived in Charlotte until she died on Super Bowl Sunday in 1982. She was cremated in Charlotte but buried at Spring Forest Cemetery in Binghamton, less than 100 meters from 13 Maple Street.

I did love Gert, I believe. But I didn’t always like her.

Les Green: a very important person

Binghamton’s finest

Les leadersOne of my sisters sent me this newspaper clipping from 1970. There’s Les Green, a very important person, in Binghamton, NY with city and county leaders, state legislative representatives, and others.

If I’m reading my Les Green history correctly, this took place largely over a 15-year period. It was roughly from 1959, when he first started singing and playing his guitar publicly, until 1974, when he, my mother, and my baby sister moved to Charlotte, NC.

And it wasn’t because he was a civil rights leader or a singer of folk songs. It was that he was those things AND a tremendous arranger of flowers AND a painter of signs AND a set designer for the Civic Theater. He was very active in his church, from running the mimeograph machine that produced the weekly bulletin to singing in the choir to leading the MAZET singers, the youth choir which included my sister Leslie and me. Also, he was an advocate for those with mental illness at Binghamton State Hospital; I do wonder what was his special affinity for that place was.

Moreover, he and his wife bought their first house in 1972, after living in a property owned by his mother-in-law for all of his married life. After I wrote about my dad a few years back, an acquaintance seriously suggested that there should have been a statue of Les Green in Binghamton.


So, on the anniversary of his death in 2000, I’ve been musing about how he felt about the move to Charlotte. Surely, he took time to find his bearings. When he first came down there, he referred to it as a “big country town.” And he wasn’t wrong, though it become more civilized over time, with a real mass transit system, not the abomination it used when I lived down there at the beginning of 1977.

The family had a rental house and they took time before discovering the right church for them. He did important work there. His job, where he became a Vice-President of J.A. Jones probably generated more income than any other job he had. He was very involved in his church, with music but also a breakfast program.

But he was always out looking for the financial rainbow, starting so many little businesses that neither my mother nor their accountant knew how many. He regularly came to me in the latter stages of his life wondering how he could get rich on this new World Wide Web thing. (The brutal truth is that he couldn’t because he was lousy at recordkeeping or even giving his wife or the accountant his receipts. Being online wouldn’t have helped.)

When he moved the Charlotte, he was sure that he couldn’t find a market for his music in the South. I was not convinced he was correct. He did start writing poetry; I have a massive manuscript in this very room.

Thinking about you, dear old Dad, as you liked to be called.

Personal History: Sunday Stealing

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

daughter, wife, niece, sister, sister, niece (Feb 2011)

This week’s Sunday Stealing is called Personal History, an interesting topic.

1. What would you like people to know about your mother?

I was thinking about this a lot this week. My father was the more outgoing and visible member of the couple. But I doubt they would have been been able to pay the bills if it wasn’t for my mom.

She was a bookkeeper at McLean’s Department Store in Binghamton, NY, then worked at Columbia Gas, not even a block away. When she moved to Charlotte, NC, she was a teller at First Union Bank, which eventually was swallowed by Wells Fargo. I probably got my love of numbers from her. When I told her we were learning base 2, which we were told was the basis of computers, she was clearly excited.

2. What would you like people to know about your father?

I’ll be writing about him on August 10, the anniversary of his death. My eclectic taste in music started with him.

3.  What was your childhood bedroom like?

HA! After my second sister was born, my father put up two walls in the dining room, built a wooden shelf into the two walls, then put a mattress on top of that. My storage was under the “bed,” though my books were around the corner on a bookcase. My dad painted the solar system on the ceiling.


4. What was your favorite activity as a child?

Alone: playing with my baseball cards. With others: playing softball/baseball/kickball. And singing.

5. What was high school like for you?

When we first got there, there was a certain hostility from some because my friends were identified as against the Vietnam war. But by the time I graduated, most of the school was against the war. I was on the stage crew and president of the Red Cross club. I was also president of the student government, which is how I sort of got to introduce Rod Serling.

6. Write about your cousins.

I have no first cousins. My parents were only children. Well, essentially. My mom had a younger sister who died as an infant. So my cousins were my mother’s cousin’s kids who lived in NYC and were a decade or more younger than I. Still, aside from my sisters and their daughters, they’re the closest relatives outside my nuclear household.

7.  What was your favorite food as a child?

Spinach. Totally indoctrinated by Popeye.

8. What was your most memorable birthday?

My 16th was held at the American Civic Association, so it was a real party. Lois, who I’ve known since kindergarten, gave me Judy Collins’ album Who Knows Where The Time Goes. She was afraid it might be too country for me; it was not.

9. What world events were significant to you as a child?

The integration of the high school in Little Rock, AR. Sputnik. The Cuban Missile Crisis – I didn’t really understand it, but I grokked adults all being nervous. The assassinations of Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy. The massive 1965 blackout was the only time I ever heard my father worry about a possible Soviet plot.

To Starr Avenue

10. What did a typical day look like as a child?

During the school year, walk to school about half a mile, usually trying to vary my route. At lunch, walk home to my grandma Williams’ house for lunch, watch JEOPARDY with her sister, my wonderful Aunt Deana, back to school, then walk home with, in geographic order, Bill, Lois, Karen, Carol, and Ray. I’d walk home.

11. Write about your grandparents. 

Gertrude Williams (1897-1982) operated out of making us afraid of the boogie man. I don’t remember her husband, Clarence Williams (d. 1958), though I may have gone to his funeral. 

Agatha Green (1902-1964) was my Sunday school teacher and taught me how to play canasta. She was the first person I knew well to die, and I was devastated. McKinley Green (1896? -1980) was a custodian at WNBF-TV-AM-FM and would bring home stuff the station no longer wanted, such s the soundtrack to The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968).

12. Did you move as a child?

I moved from the second floor of 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton, NY, to the first floor when my mother was pregnant with her second child. Until college, that was it.

13. Who taught you to drive?

Several people tried, including the Okie, Uthaclena, my father, and a professional.

14. Which job has been your favorite?

FantaCo, the comic book store/mail order/publisher/convention, where I worked from May 1980 to November 1988.

15. What was the best part of your 30s?

Working at FantaCo, singing in the Trinity UMC choir

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